An Anecdoted Topography of Chance

Following a rambling conversation with his friend Robert Filliou, Daniel Spoerri one day mapped the objects lying at random on the table in his room, adding a rigorously scientific description of each. These objects subsequently evoked associations, memories and anecdotes from both the original author and his friends …

I recently bought a copy of Spoerri and friend’s artist’s book, An Anecdoted Topography of Chance. The first edition dates from 1966, but that was based on a version that passed as the catalogue for an exhibition by Spoerri in 1962. This 2016 version has a footnote to the title (in the lower right of the cover) that reads,

* Probably definitive re-anecdoted version

The work is essentially a collection of annotations to a map of the dishes and other things that were on Spoerri’s sideboard in his apartment. You start with the map, that looks like an archaeological diagram, and follow anecdotes about the items that are, in turn, commented on by the other authors. Hypertext before hypertext.

While the work seems to have been driven by the chance items on the small table, there is also an autobiographical element where these items give the authors excuses to tell about their intersecting lives.

I wonder if this would be an example of a work of art of information.

Virtual YouTubers get caught in the middle of a diplomatic spat

It’s relatively easy for those involved in the entertainment industry in Asia to get caught up in geopolitical scuffles, with with social media accelerating and magnifying any faux pas.

From the Japan Times I learned about how some hololive vTubers or Virtual YouTubers g[o]t caught in the middle of a diplomatic spat. The vTuber Kiryu Coco, who is apparently a young (3,500 years young) dragon, showed a visualization that mentioned Taiwan as different from China and therefore ticked off Chinese fans which led to hololive releasing apologies. Young dragons don’t yet know about the One-China policy. To make matters worse the apologies/explanations published in different countries were different which was noticed and that needed further explanation. Such are the dangers of trying to appeal to both the Chinese, Japanese and US markets.

Not knowing much about vTubers I poked around the hololive site. An interesting aspect of the English site is the information in the FAQ about what you can send or not send your favorite talent. Here is their list of things hololive will not accept from fans:

– ALL second hand/used/opened up items that do NOT directly deliver from e-commerce sites such as Amazon (excluding fan letters and message cards)
– Luxury items (individual items which cost more than 30,000 yen)
– Living beings or raw items (including fresh flowers, except flower stands for specified venues and events)
– Items requiring refrigeration
– Handmade items (excluding fan letters and message cards)
– All sorts of stuffed toys, dolls, cushions (no exceptions)
– Currencies (cash, gift cards, coupons, tickets, etc.)
– Cosmetics, perfumes, soap, medicines, etc.
– Dangerous goods (explosives, knives/weapons, drugs, imitation swords, model guns, etc.)
– Clothes, underwear (Scarves, gloves, socks, and blankets are OK)
– Amulets, talismans, charms (items related to religion, politics, or ideological expressions)
– Large items (sizes where the talents would find it impossible to carry home alone)
– Pet supplies
– Items that may violate public order and moral
– Items that may violate laws and regulations
– Additional items (the authorities will perform final confirmation and judgment)

I feel this list is a distant relative of Borges’ taxonomy of animals taken from the fictional Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge which includes such self-referential animals as “those included in this classification” and “et cetera.”

On a serious note, it is impressive how much these live vTubers can bring in. By some estimates Coco made USD $140,000 in July. The mix of anime characters and live streaming of game playing (see above) and other fun seems to be popular. While this phenomena may look like one of those weird Japan things, I suspect we are going to see more virtual characters especially if face and body tracking tools become easy to use. How could I teach online as a virtual character?

The Useless Web

The Useless Web Button… just press it, and find where it takes you.

Bettina pointed me to this The Useless Web site. It sends you to a useless we site. Examples include The Passive Aggressive Password Machine and Always Judge a Book by its Cover which shows real books with ridiculous titles (go ahead, follow the link and see if you agree.)

My question is whether the The Useless Web Button is one of the sites that you could be taken too?

Show and Tell at CHRIN

Stéphane Pouyllau’s photo of me presenting

Michael Sinatra invited me to a “show and tell” workshop at the new Université de Montréal campus where they have a long data wall. Sinatra is the Director of CRIHN (Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur les humanitiés numériques) and kindly invited me to show what I am doing with Stéfan Sinclair and to see what others at CRIHN and in France are doing.

Continue reading Show and Tell at CHRIN

There are 2,373 squirrels in Central Park. I know because I helped count them

I volunteered for the first squirrel census in the city. Here’s what I learned, in a nutshell.

From Lauren Klein on Twitter I learned about a great New York Times article on  There are 2,373 squirrels in Central Park. I know because I helped count them. The article is by Denise Lau (Jan. 8, 2020.) As Klein points out, it is about the messiness of data collection. (Note that she has a book coming out on Data Feminism with Catherine D’Ignazio.)


Screen Shot of Windows 93

hug + hack = infinity

At one of the talks at CGSA 2019 I learned about WINDOWS93. It is an emulation of a non-existant early version of Windows that looks a bit like Windows 95, but has all sorts of joke applications in it.

This and other examples of interactive games that mimic everyday software was presented by Benjamin Unterman in a paper titled, “Games Imitating Life.” Unterman theorized that there are three types of such games:

  • Realistic interface designs where a game pretends to be a real interface like that of a cell phone, but you end up messaging fictional people.
  • Complicit designs use realistic interfaces to bring people into a satire or joke interactive. I think Windows93 would be such an example.
  • Antagonistic designs pretend to be some productivity tool, but they subvert the interface as you play.

My conference notes for Congress 2019 are here.

$432 000 painting “by AI” sold at Christie’s

A painting created using GANs (generative adversarial networks) sold for $432 000 at Christies today.

Last year a $432 000 painting “by AI” sold at Christie’s. The painting was created by a collective called Obvious. They used a Generative Adversarial Network. In an essay titled, A naive yet educated perspective on Art and Artificial Intelligence, they talk about how they created the work.

Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) analyze tens of thousands of images, learn from their features, and are trained with the aim to create new images that are undistinguishable from the original data source.

They also point out that many of the same concerns people have about AI art today were voiced about photography in the 19th century. Photography automated the image making business much as AIs are automating other tasks.

Can we use these GANs for other generative scholarship?

Writing with the machine

“…it’s like writing with a deranged but very well-read parrot on your shoulder.”

Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, has been doing some interesting work with recursive neural nets in order to generate text. See Writing with the machine. He trained a machine on science fiction and then hooked it into a text editor so it can complete sentences. The New York Times has a nice story on Sloan’s experiments, Computer Stories: A.I. Is Beginning to Assist Novelists.

One wonders what it would be like if you trained it on your own writing. Would it help you be yourself or discourage you from rereading your prose?


Watch Andy Warhol “Paint” On A Commodore Computer: Gothamist

Eric Hayot at the Novel Worlds conference showed a slide with an image of Debbie Harry of Blondie painted on the Amiga by Andy Warhol. There is a video of Warhol painting on the Amiga at the premiere of the Commodore Amiga.

This is discussed in a documentary The Invisible Photograph: Part 2 (Trapped). The documentary also talks about recovering other images from Warhol’s original Amiga that was preserved by the The Andy Warhol Museum.

Technologizer has a nice retrospective on the Amiga, Amiga: 25 Years Later. I remember when it came out in 1985. I had a Mac by then, but was intrigued by the colour Amiga and the video work people were doing with it.

Every Noise at Once

Ted Underwood in a talk at the Novel Worlds conference talked about a fascinating project,  Every Noise at OnceThis project has tried to map the genres of music so you can explore these by clicking and listening. You should, in theory, be able to tell the difference between “german techno” and “diva house” by listening. (I’m not musically literate enough to.)